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Eagle hit by train feared dead

UPDATE: Eagle spotted in New River Gorge; was feared dead

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A male bald eagle believed to be half of the only confirmed nesting pair of its species in Southern West Virginia is missing and presumed dead after it was reportedly struck by an Amtrak passenger train making its way through the New River Gorge on Sunday.

The accident occurred Sunday morning between Hinton and Sandstone in Summers County, near the island where the male eagle and his mate are known to have nested since 2010.

Personnel in the passenger train's eastbound locomotive "saw the eagle come off the tracks as they rounded a curve, then hit the windshield, full-body," said Wendy Perrone, director of the Three Rivers Avian Center at nearby Brooks. 

 The Amtrak crew realized immediately that an eagle had been struck, and called the Raleigh County 911 center, which in turn contacted the National Park Service, which manages the land on which the eagle pair is nesting.

NPS officials with the New River Gorge National River contacted Three Rivers Avian Center, which operates a rehabilitation facility for injured eagles and other birds of prey, and with the help of volunteers, has been monitoring the eagle pair's nesting progress.

"We got the call at 10:35 a.m., and by 11:07, we were walking the tracks" searching for the dead or injured eagle, Perrone said. So far, no sign of the missing eagle has turned up.

"It's a very steep area with a lot of small ledges," she said. "We walked the tracks twice and saw no evidence of the bird. Anything could have happened to the body."

Volunteers using spotting scopes and binoculars watched the nest until dark on Sunday from a vantage point along W.Va. 20, and saw only one adult eagle on the nest throughout the day. "We think it was the female," said Perrone. "She was on the eggs continually. She had some food in the nest on Sunday and nibbled on some of it, but never took a break to get more food."

Perrone and her husband, Ron, co-director of Three Rivers Avian Center, returned to observe the nest early Monday, and again saw only one eagle on the nest.

On Tuesday, the Perrones placed fish freshly electro-shocked from Bluestone Lake by Division of Natural Resources personnel at a site a short distance from the nest, as the nesting eagle looked on.

"Normally, she tends to stay extremely close to her eggs," Perrone said, "but we're hoping she'll get hungry enough to take a short break and get some food."

With one half of the nesting pair missing, "the chances of not having the eggs hatch or losing the chicks is now pretty high," she said. Male bald eagles spell their partners on nesting duty and bring food to the site.

"If we're lucky enough to have the eggs hatch -- and we're within a few days of the expected hatching date -- the plan is to have food available to her a short distance from the nest."

The nesting pair of bald eagles, known as Whitey and Streaky by their human observers, were first spotted at the nesting site by Pipestem Resort State Park naturalist Jim Phillips. Whitey was the male, and Streaky the female.

While Perrone termed the Amtrak train's collision with the eagle a tragedy, "it's also an accident, and accidents happen," she said.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.

 


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